Norwalk High School's wrestling team has been trying to overcome inexperience, injuries and, oh yeah, opponents of course. The toughest task of all has been going up against those opposing teams that aren't nursing bumps and bruises, and which have the upper hand in experience.
The Bears have forfeited four of the 14 weight divisions, because of various ailments, in recent competitions. That has given the team a significant disadvantage against squads with full rosters, and resulted in an overall untested lineup winning just three matches in its first month of the season.
"Not only the injuries, but also the inexperience, makes it very difficult to win a dual meet," said Norwalk Coach Job Fernandez, noting that many of the team members are new to the sport when they come to high school.
Despite the inexperience factor, the grapplers had high hopes for success, which have been hampered by those trips to the disabled list.
"We had a lot of kids do a lot of work in the off season so I expected us to have a really good season," said 138-pound division grappler Evan Reisch, one of Norwalk's captains. "As soon as the season started we had a lot of concussions, and shoulder and knee injuries."
An injury to Reisch in his second match in Norwalk's first of five competitions at the Masuk Duals on Jan. 5 left the team with five holes in the lineup.
Reisch, after winning his first match of what was supposed to be a grueling day of competition, went down with an arm injury in his second contest, a battle with Westhill of Stamford.
"This is really disappointing. As soon as I get off the mat, I want to wrestle again," Reisch said.
Reisch has been a bright spot for the struggling team. He's only lost twice -- both times to top-five state wrestlers.
Mathew Baker, a 195-pound grappler, is among those sidelined because of injury, and is disappointed to not be able to contribute.
"You want to support your team," Baker said.
In addition to host Masuk, the Bears also took on Portland, Westhill, Harding and Holy Cross, winning against Harding and Holy Cross -- thanks, in part, to those teams also having to forfeit several weight classes. These lengthy competitions are difficult, but offer some opportunities for the team members to make strides -- even when the team comes out on the losing side.
"The positive about it, in my opinion, is there isn't so much pressure built around one match. Any mistake you make early in the day, you can correct later in the afternoon," Fernandez said. "Obviously, it's a difficult thing because wrestling for six minutes is not an easy thing. As far as endurance is concerned, it takes a lot."
After his third battle of the day, 145-pounder Jimmy McInerney said, "It's definitely hard, especially if they go the full six minutes, but my matches are getting shorter and shorter."
McInerney beat each of his first three opponents, Portland, Westhill and Masuk, via pin, in the third, second and first rounds, respectively. He went on to win twice more for a 5-0 performance.
McInerney is only a second-year grappler, but an example of what hard work can accomplish in a short time.
"He's a product of his own work ethic. He put in a lot of effort in the off season," Fernandez said.
Fernandez realizes that the Bears have their work cut out going against teams in the head to head format, but he is confident they will shine once the postseason rolls around. He notes that individuals can't carry a team but that they can enjoy their own success and challenge for weight class titles.
Fernandez believes Schwartz, Reisch, McInerney, and 182-pound grappler Neri Cerone, as well as the team's two heavyweight (285) competitors -- Douglas Knowles and Bryan Garcia -- all stand a good chance to go deep in postseason competition.
Knowles, for one -- who posted five wins in the Masuk competition -- believes the day-long competitions should begin to pay off once the postseason arrives.
"I love them. By the end of the day you start getting tired, but you get used to it as the season goes on," he said.